The towns of Waterbury and Duxbury and the village of Kumari in Nepal are home to roughly the same number of people, and both communities straddle hilly country.
But in Kumari, the hills are the size of the mountains here, and they go on as far as the eye can see.
Jagat Lama, a mountain expedition guide, was born in Kumari and is now based in Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu. He is visiting the United States this summer to promote his organization, Nepal Independent Trekking Guide Cooperative, and to talk about projects in Kumari being funded with a portion of their profits.
“I am traveling like this to make a success of my father’s dream,” Lama said.
Lama was sickly as a child, so his father sent him to school because he was useless in the fields, he said. As a teenager, he became healthier and traveled to Kathmandu to find work, eventually training first as a porter and then as a guide.
In 1996, his father fell from a mountain field and suffered fatal injuries. The hospital in the capital was too difficult for his family to reach, even though it was only 25 miles away. Before he died, Lama’s father asked him to use his education to improve the lives of people in the isolated village.
“He died without any medication,” Lama said. “I never forget this. This is my inspiration and my responsibility.”
Lama recently spent four days with the Pierce family in Duxbury, meeting with people in the area, including the Waterbury-based Children’s Literacy Foundation, which donated a box of English-language books to his efforts.
Jamie Ervin, her husband, Alan Pierce and their son, Lincoln, hired the trekking cooperative during a vacation to Nepal in December. The company is the only one of its kind in the country; it’s owned and operated by its roughly 50 members, including expedition guides, trekking guides, Nepal Mountain Guide, porters and cooks. The guides put 10 to 15 percent of their profits into a welfare fund, which pays medical expenses for their injured members. What is left over at the end of the year is spent on projects in Kumari.
As part of the trip, the Pierces visited the village.
“I was blown away mostly because of how much they have already accomplished with so little,” said Jamie Ervin, who worked in Nepal for five years in the 1980s.
In 2009, Lama and his guiding colleagues, with the significant help of supporters in the U.S., built a 12-mile packed road connecting Kumari to the country’s highway system. Until then, villagers throughout the region faced a grueling daylong hike just to get to the highway.
“It’s like climbing Camel’s Hump three or four times, up and over and up and over, to get to Kumari” from Kathmandu, Ervin said. “It is very intense hiking, so the road really helps.”
In the last several years since the road was built, the cooperative has helped villagers construct a medical clinic with a small pharmacy, as well as a school building, a library and a women’s small business center, outfitted with six sewing machines.
Also, between $6,000 and $10,000 annually goes toward educating village residents, from primary-school children to adults pursuing training to be medical assistants and teachers.
Their current focus is raising money to buy diagnostic machines and medicine for the clinic, and adding books and a computer with wireless Internet service to the library, Lama said.
The facilities are used by people from the region around Kumari, part of the Nuwakot district, he said. The area is home to the Tamang people, one of the country’s rural ethnic minorities.
This is Lama’s third visit to the U.S. since 2008, but his first time in Vermont. He is also traveling in California and Oregon on this trip.
People interested in supporting his efforts can donate directly to a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, Health & Ed 4 Nepal, started by three men from Colorado who also met Lama through trekking. In the last three years, the nonprofit has funneled almost $190,000 to a partner organization in Nepal.
Another way to help is to consider planning a vacation in Nepal with his group, Lama said. Today, Nepal is at a crossroads politically, and his cooperative has lost business as a result. An assembly of representatives, elected in 2008 to write a constitution for the country, was dissolved in late May without completing its work.
The best time for trekking in Nepal is from the end of September to the end of November, and from the beginning of March to the middle of May.
“We are making money, not only for our family; it is for the workers too,” Lama said. “And the rest goes to the community.”
For more information: www.healthanded4nepal.org